Ne-Yo - Biography
By Joanna Ricco
Ne-Yo is an American singer, songwriter, producer, and actor who broke into the music industry penning songs for other artists. After having written numerous hits for R&B and pop stars, he emerged as a solo singing talent to be reckoned with.
Ne-Yo was born Shaffer Chimere Smith on October 18, 1979 in Camden, Arkansas to an African American father and a mother of mixed African American and Chinese heritage. After separating from his father, Ne-Yo’s mother moved with her young son to Las Vegas, Nevada where she believed they could have a better life.
Smith took the name Ne-Yo early in his career when producer Big D Evans likened Ne-Yo’s approach to music as being like Neo’s to the matrix, an allusion to the American action/science fiction movie The Matrix. The nickname stuck and Ne-Yo is almost always credited by this name. While still a teenager in Las Vegas, Ne-Yo began his recording career as a member of the group Envy. The group dissolved in 2000, but that did not stop Ne-Yo. Gaining momentum, he was signed to Columbia Records as a solo artist and recorded a full-length album. The album, however, never was released as Ne-Yo was dropped from Columbia not long after production wrapped. When the singer Marques Houston heard “That Girl,” an unreleased track of Ne-Yo’s, he knew that he had come upon a special talent. Houston recorded the song himself and released it on his 2003 album MH. “That Girl” was the catalyst for Ne-Yo to turn his attention to writing songs for other artists.
By 2004, Ne-Yo was penning songs for some of the most popular artists in contemporary R&B and pop. His contributions included writing credits for songs on Christina Milian’s It’s About Time (Island) and Teedra Moses’s Complex Simplicity (2004 – TVT). Other notable writing credits include work with Mary J. Blige, Musiq, and Faith Evans. However, it was not until he helped craft Mario’s “Let Me Love You” that Ne-Yo established himself as a force with which to be reckoned. “Let Me Love You” peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and was unmovable for nine weeks. Hot on the heels of such success, Tina Davis, a former A&R rep for Def Jam Recordings, introduced Ne-Yo to L.A. Reid, Def Jam Recordings’ label head. The meeting has been described as nothing more than an informal chat, as Ne-Yo was not in the market for a new contract. All that would change after he performed for Def Jam and Jay-Z, and the CEO of the label insisted on signing him.
Def Jam executives saw promise in Ne-Yo far beyond the reaches of songwriting. The label began to work on making a debut album for him that would feature him as a singer. By early 2006, Ne-Yo released his debut album, In My Own Words on Def Jam. In My Own Words debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, thanks in large part to the success of the second single off of the album, “So Sick,” which reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Other singles from the album include “Sexy Love” and “When You’re Mad.” Eventually, the album was certified platinum by the RIAA.
2007 brought the second full-length album for Ne-Yo, Because of You (Def Jam). The album also debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and was certified platinum. Ne-Yo took his success to the political arena that same year, performing at a fundraising concert for then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.
In September of 2008, Ne-Yo released his third album, Year of the Gentleman (Def Jam). Critically regarded as his best and most ambitious album to date, it debuted at number two on the Billboard 200. Singles from Year of the Gentleman include “Closer” and “Miss Independent,” both testimonials to Ne-Yo’s belief in being a gentleman. Both singles spent time on the Billboard Hot 100, but neither exceeded the number seven spot. Grammy nominations came in for Best Contemporary R&B Album and Album of the Year, as well as Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for “Closer” and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song for “Miss Independent.” In staying true to Ne-Yo’s better-than-Midas touch, Year of the Gentleman achieved platinum status.
Despite his return to performance, Ne-Yo has not given up on writing songs for other artists. Most notably, he has worked with Rihanna on “Unfaithful” and “Take a Bow,” and with Beyoncé for “Irreplaceable.” He has also worked with Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, and Enrique Iglesias.
Aside from writing and recording, Ne-Yo runs his own production company called Compound Entertainment, as well as The Compound Foundation. Started in early 2007, The Compound Foundation is a non-profit organization that serves the needs of disadvantaged youth by building residential schools in group homes. The foundation focuses on teaching skill sets that establish entrepreneurial ambition in the young students. Mentorship from community leaders and business owners help to establish life-long lessons for the teens.